Fortification Friday: Timber for Scarp Revetments

Thus far we’ve looked at Mahan’s advice for revetments, taking each type in detail – sod, pisa, fascine, hurdle, gabion, plank, and sandbag. Mahan offered one more type for use with field fortifications, calling it the scarp revetment.  The name implies use specifically on the scarp within the ditch.  However, it was also referred to as a timber revetment by other authorities, indicating such could be used at other places within the fortification.  But as we focus on Mahan’s instruction here, let’s proceed with the notion of revetting the scarp.

Scarp revetment. This revetment is formed of a framework of heavy timber, and is used only for important field forts. A piece, termed a cap, or cap-sill, is imbedded in a trench made along the line of the berm; other pieces, termed land-ties, are placed in the trenches perpendicular to the cap, with which they are connected by a dove-tail joint; they are about eight or ten feet asunder. Cross pieces are halved into the land-ties about two feet from their extremities, and two square piles, about five feet long, are driven into the angles between the land-ties and cross pieces; inclined pieces, which serve as supports to the cap, are mortised into its under sides at the same points as the land-ties.  These supports usually receive a slope of ten perpendicular to one base; they generally rest on a ground-sill, at the bottom of the ditch, to which they are mortised, this being held firm by square piles. The ground-sill may be omitted by driving the supports below the bottom of the ditch.

Figure 27 of Plate III was offered to illustrate the scarp revetment, in “section” and “plan”:


You can see how these are matched across the diagram with dotted lines between the section and plan.  For some clarity, I’ve also broken these down into individual cuts for each. Here’s the section:


And here’s the plan:


The annotations in the diagram follows the description (not in alphabetical order, though):

  • B is the cap-sill.
  • D is the ground-sill.
  • C are the uprights between the cap and ground.
  • A are the land-ties. Notice how those are dovetailed into the cap-sill.
  • E depicts the cross pieces attached to the land-ties.
  • F shows the short piles used to anchor the land-ties leveraging the cross pieces.
  • G are piles anchoring the ground-sill.

Note the wood is connected by way of joints – specified as dovetail or mortise joints.

With this framework constructed, Mahan called for planks over the scarp:

Behind this framework, thick plank, or heavy scantling, is placed side by side, having the same slope as the supports; or else a rabate may be made in the cap and ground-sills, and the scantling be let in between those two pieces serving as a support to the cap. This is the more difficult construction but is the better, since, should the heavy supports be cut away, the cap will still be retained in its place.

Thus the face of the scarp would be covered by a revetment of plank.  And in the best case, those planks added to the support of the framework, using a rabbet (Mahan says rabate.. a rose is a rose…) joint.  Note the uprights (C) and the planks both ran vertical in the preferred construction.  There’s a reason, as Mahan noted next:

Scarp revetments are sometimes formed by laying heavy timber in a horizontal position; but this method is bad, as it enables the enemy to gain a foot-hold by thrusting their bayonets between the joints.

So don’t be lazy and allow the enemy gain a foothold.  Take the time, get out the wood-working tools and make the right joints.

Another bit of advice Mahan offered was, “The length of the land-ties should be at least equal to two-thirds the depth of the ditch.”  Thus the length of “A” had a direct relation to the length of “C”.  Those are 9 and 12 feet, respectively, in the diagrams above. Thus extended, the land-ties would firmly anchor the weight of the revetment with enough strength to resist an enemy’s attempt to pull the structure loose.

Looking to the other side of the ditch, Mahan gave a little attention to the counterscarp:

The counterscarp is seldom reveted. A framework similar to that for the scarp might be used, and thick boards, laid horizontally, be substituted for the inclined scantling.

Observe, the horizontal orientation was fine for the counterscarp.  Who cares if the enemy gets a foothold while trying to retreat… and at the same time, those footholds might prove useful should the defender need to pursue. But above all, Mahan saw little need to waste time with fancy woodworking joints for the counterscarp.

Now this is all good talk about revetment of the scarp.  But we have to consider how it fits into the overall construction process:

When a scarp revetment is made, the excavation of the ditch must be conducted in a different manner from that already explained. In this case, after the cap-sill and land-ties are laid, the excavation is continued to the bottom of the ditch, by removing only earth enough to allow the framework to be put up. A scaffolding of plank is then raised in the ditch on which the earth that remains to be excavated is thrown, and from there to the berm.

Yes, it would be rather difficult to plant those land-ties after the parapet was piled up!  So the scarp revetment needed to be set before digging out the ditch.

To sum up the discussion of revetments, these were supplemental structures within the works.  But were considered necessary improvements to strengthen the works, adding resiliency against erosion and enemy action. We’ve seen a progression here from simple, low-labor cost solutions to more elaborate and labor-intensive options.  Each type of revetment offered different qualities that an engineer could consider within the overall plan.  And he couldn’t just go to some home improvement store to purchase materials!

(Citation from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 41-42.)

April 1862… a pivotal month of the war

Today marks the 155th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter, generally called the “start” of the American Civil War.  I don’t know what to call the 155th other than just “155th.”  Likewise, I have no smart name for the 151st anniversaries of the surrender at Appomattox (last Saturday) or Lincoln’s assassination (coming Thursday).  Having just experienced the sesquicentennial years, I trust we are all aware that April 1861 and April 1865 serve as convenient bookends of the Civil War.  And thus we see a number of good, scholarly works aimed to explain the events from those months. That is, in my opinion, a focus well spent.  Yet, there is a lot of “in between” laying between those two Aprils which is also due focus.

One “in between” that has always struck my fancy is April 1862.  Just a lot of moving parts in that spring month.  Consider –

  • April 4- Major-General George McClellan lead the Army of the Potomac up the Peninsula toward Confederate defenses at Yorktown.
  • April 6 – General Albert Sidney Johnston’s army struck Major-General U.S. Grant’s force camped around Pittsburg Landing.
  • April 7- Major-General John Pope landed a force at Watson’s Landing, on the Tennessee shore below New Madrid, Missouri, and behind Island No. 10.
  • April 10 – Federal batteries directed by (then) Captain Quincy Gillmore opened fire on Fort Pulaski.
  • April 12 – James Andrews hijacked the locomotive General at Big Shanty, Georgia.
  • April 17 – Major-General Nathaniel Banks occupied New Market, Virginia, with Major-General Thomas Jackson’s command falling back to the vicinity of Harrisonburg.
  • April 18 – Federal fleet under Commodore David Farragut began bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip downstream from New Orleans. Days later the fleet would run past those forts.
  • April 26 – After a month long siege, Confederates surrendered Fort Macon on the North Carolina coast.

Those being, mostly, start or end points of longer campaigns or operations.  The conclusions seen were:

  • A prolonged siege at Yorktown.
  • Over 23,000 casualties and a major Confederate reverse at Shiloh.
  • Some 7,000 Confederates captured at Island No. 10 and the Mississippi laid open south nearly (Fort Pillow) to Memphis.
  • New Orleans lost to the Confederacy – both as a port and manufacturing center.
  • Savannah mostly closed as a port.
  • The coast of North Carolina, save Wilmington, under Federal control.  As were large portions of the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Arkansas.

I added the Great Locomotive Chase entry as it had some impact on the Confederate logistic system at the time.

Furthermore, in a era without the benefit (or handicap) of the 24-hour news cycle, the timing of that raid reminds us how these events were connected in time. Imagine the newspaper headlines each morning, as the events unfolded.  In learning about the war, we approached the initial study by chapters… nicely defined chapters covering specific campaigns.

But unfortunately a format that failed to give us that appreciation for how those events were experienced – real time.  Those of us who waded into the sesquicentennial gained much from “real time, 150 years after the fact” following.  And I do hope that added to the perspective of many.  However I think in general that historians have not done enough to demonstrate the connection between these events and how such factored into the course of the war.  Nor have us students done enough to bring out those connections in our studies.  Thus several logical, time-line groupings of events have not received due attention.  There were several pivotal weeks and months in which the course of the war turned.

April 1862 was one of them.  The war entered its first mature campaign season… from the plains of Kansas to the Atlantic Ocean (and beyond).  And given the victories cited above, April 1862 might have been a turning point sending the Confederacy to an early end.  As a “western theater guy” I am fond of saying the Confederates lost the war at Shiloh on the night of April 6, 1862 and the Federals won the war atop Missionary Ridge on November 24, 1863.  Easterners will disagree, but the fact is defeat at Shiloh broke the back of the Confederate army in the west.  Shiloh set-up Vicksburg.  Vicksburg set-up Chattanooga and that Missionary Ridge thing.  Missionary Ridge set-up Atlanta.  And from Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston, Columbia, and Fayetteville … and set-up Appomattox. The long way around, to be sure.  But that’s how my “western-centered” perspective views it… feel free to disagree.

Yet from the opposite side of the coin, April 1862 was also an important set-up for the Confederacy. Consider the closures… or results… from some of those Federal actions:

  • The Army of the Potomac invested Yorktown, not taking that place until the first days of May.
  • Major-General Henry Halleck took direct control of the advance toward Corinth, Mississippi, concentrating forces across the western theater for a slow pursuit.  The Crossroads of the Confederacy would not be in Federal hands until the end of May.
  • Major-General Samuel Curtiss, due to logistic constraints and in spite of a victory at Pea Ridge in March, fell back into Missouri.

This turn of events, again happening concurrently, gave openings and created angles which the Confederates could exploit. One of those, of course, being Jackson’s Valley Campaign.  That campaign, and actions on other fronts, setup six months in which the Confederacy would reach its zenith… and take the war onto northern soil.

Maybe April 1862 was not the turning point it could have been.  And maybe it was not the most important thirty days of the Civil War.  But I submit it was a pivotal month in the course of the war.

Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 2nd Regiment, US Regulars

As we move forward with the summaries today, we look at the Second Regiment, US Artillery.  For the fourth quarter of 1862, we saw varied service for the batteries in this regiment – field and garrison, eastern and western theaters.  The service details remained varied into the first quarter of the new year.  Furthermore, the changes between the two reporting period reflected some of the organizational changes occurring in the winter of 1863.

That said, let’s examine the administrative details and reported cannon on hand:


Looking at these particulars, I’ll work in the changes with each entry:

  • Battery A – No location given. Six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles on hand, as was reported in December.  The is was Captain John C. Tidball’s battery. Though part of the Army of the Potomac’s Artillery Reserve, the battery was nominally assigned to Second Division of the Cavalry Corps.
  • Battery B – At Aquia Creek, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  An increase of two guns over the last report. Battery assigned to the horse artillery brigade of the Cavalry Corps.  When Captain James M. Robertson moved up to command the horse artillery of the Cavalry Corps, Lieutenant Albert Vincent assumed command of the battery.
  • Battery C – Opelousas, Louisiana with six 12-pdr Napoleons, an increase of two over last report.  The battery was part of Fourth Division, Nineteenth Corps (one of those relatively new formations on paper), in the Department of the Gulf. Lieutenant Theodore Bradley commanded.
  • Battery D – No location given.  Six 12-pdr Napoleons on hand, as was the case the previous December.  Battery D was assigned to Sixth Corps and was thus in camp north of the Rappahannock.  A Medal of Honor was in the future (two campaign seasons later) for Lieutenant Edward D. Williston.
  • Battery E –  Reporting at Lexington, Kentucky with six 20-pdr Parrott Rifles.  This battery moved to Kentucky as part of the Ninth Corps in March 1863.  Lieutenant Samuel N. Benjamin remained in command.  Note the quantity of guns.  Hunt indicated the battery had six 20-pdrs during the battle of Fredericksburg.  But the December 1862 report clearly shows a “1” in the 20-pdr column.  By March 1863, the battery reported six.  So was the earlier report in error?  Or did the reporting period catch the battery during a stage of refitting with new guns?  At any rate, those guns which started the year in Virginia had more travels before June 1863.
  • Battery F – No report. The battery remained in the Corinth, Mississippi area and, despite all the reorganizations in the Army of the Tennessee, remained with the District of Corinth.  Lieutenant Charles Green commanded, replacing Captain Albert Molinard.
  • Battery G – No report.  The battery remained with Sixth Corps, north of the Rappahannock.  Lieutenant John H. Bulter was in command.
  • Battery H – Assigned to Fort Barrancas, Florida as garrison artillery.  No field weapons reported.
  • Battery I – Fort McHenry, Maryland.  No field artillery reported.
  • Battery K – Fort Pickens, Florida on garrison artillery assignment.
  • Battery L – Reported at Aquia Creek with the annotation “No stores”.  Battery L remained consolidated with Battery B (above).
  • Battery M – At Bealton Station, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. Assigned to the Horse Artillery Brigade, Army of the Potomac.  Lieutenant Robert Clarke replaced Lieutenant Robert H. Chapin at the head of this battery.

One last entry line for the regiment is for “Adjutant, stores in charge.” The adjutant reported several types of implements, tools, and supplies but no cannon or projectiles.  The adjutant did have a few sabers to rattle around.

Looking to the smoothbore projectiles:


As expected only the Napoleon batteries reported quantities:

  • Battery C – 144 shot, 16 shell, 528 case, and 208 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery D – 273 shot, 110 shell, 321 case, and 64 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

So no surprises with the Napoleons.

For the Hotchkiss-types, we have only one battery to mention:


But that reporting a healthy quantity:

  • Battery B – 266 shot, 90 canister, 434 percussion shell, 307 fuse shell, and 69 bullet shell for the “3-inch wrought-iron gun.”

Moving to the next page, we see entries for Dyer’s and Parrott’s patent projectiles:


Yes, a lot of space for four numbers for us to consider.  I am including, this time around, some of the draft snips such as this one so readers might fully review the entries.  I may interpret a stray mark incorrectly, so this is intended to allow better validation (though… alas, I’ve pretty much cut up the workspace by creating the snips to begin with).  Looking narrowly here:


For Dyer’s:

  • Battery M – 348 Dyer’s shrapnel for 3-inch rifle.

The Parrott projectiles are for those 20-pdrs:

  • Battery E – 822 shell, 204 case, and 72 canister for 3.67-inch bore. Plenty for a six-gun battery to start an engagement.

Moving to the next page (full snip here) and Schenkl columns:


Just one battery reporting:

  • Battery M – 494 shell and 72 canister for 3-inch rifle.

We have no records for Battery A’s ammunition state at this period of the war.

Moving down to the small arms:



By battery:

  • Battery A – Fourteen Army revolvers, sixty-six Navy revolvers, twelve cavalry sabers, and seventy-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B – Thirteen cavalry sabers and two horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery C – Twenty-eight horse artillery sabers and twenty-eight foot artillery swords.
  • Battery D – Fifteen Army revolvers and sixty-two horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E – Fifty-six Navy revolvers and thirty-three horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M – 120 Army revolvers and twenty-six horse artillery sabers.
  • Adjutant – Twenty-four horse artillery sabers.

So… Captain Tidball had time to tally the number of revolvers and edged weapons on hand… and a large number at that!  But gave no numbers for ammunition on hand. Are we to believe this storied battery had empty ammunition chests?  Or was there something missing in the report?   I just can’t see someone with Tidball’s reputation leaving out such an important particular.  Must have been something rotten in the Ordnance Department.

Fortification Friday: Sandbag and Plank Revetments

Somewhat serendipitous, my pal XBradTC forwarded a link to a lavishly illustrated forum post. Wonderful dioramas depicting British trenches from World War I in cut-away profiles.  Please browse through there, and in particular look at the annotations on the side of the elevations. Since the focus of my late Friday installments has been revetments, let us look at those. In those three selections from the modeler, we see four types of revetments, of the type used in the Great War.  Three in view on this picture:



Sandbag, wood, and wicker revetments.  Missing from this profile are corrugated iron revetments (which you will see on the other two dioramas in the post).  And corrugated iron was not something Mahan suggested for Civil War-era engineers.  Corrugated metal was around in mid-19th century America, and could have been used.  But its military applicability seems to have eluded Mahan when he was writing in 1846.

However, as we have seen, Mahan did discuss at length the manner of creating wicker-based revetments, in the form of fascines and gabions. Though the diorama depicts a simpler wicker form, more as a sheet than bundle or basket.

Closer to Mahan’s ideas on revetments are the wood and sandbag revetments.  As for the use of wood planks, Mahan wrote, briefly:

Plank revetment.  This revetment may be made by driving pieces of four-inch scantling about three feet apart, two feet below the tread of the banquette, giving them the same slope as the interior slope. Behind these pieces, boards are nailed to sustain the earth.

And we see something very similar, though not driven two feet below the tread, depicted below the firestep in the diorama.  So the physics of using wood planks to restrain earth did not change in the fifty years from Appomattox to the Somme.  Go figure.  I would point out, before we completely dismiss corrugated iron in context to Civil War revetments, the manner of fixing that type in the Great War period was similar to that described by Mahan for planking:


Another type of revetment mentioned by Mahan which would also be familiar to the Tommies used sandbags:

Sand bags are sometimes used for revetments when other materials cannot be procured; though their object, in most cases, is generally to form a speedy cover for a body of men.  They are usually made of course canvass; the bag, when empty, is two feet eight inches long, and one foot two inches wide; they are three-fourths filled with earth, and the top is loosely tied.  From their perishable nature, they are only used for a temporary purpose, as when troops are disembarked on an enemy’s coast.

Let’s examine Mahan’s emphasis on “temporary” with respect to sandbags.   We know well the Tommies on the Western Front were using sandbags through 1918.  And closer to Mahan’s period, we know that on Morris Island the Federals used sandbags extensively from 1863 through the end of the war.  Though… let us acknowledge that initially the situation fit to a “T” Mahan’s proposed scenario – being on the enemy’s coast. Far from the coast, sandbags were employed at Petersburg … and not in some “temporary” fix.

Allow me to make much about little here.  Mahan’s main objection to the sandbag was the tendency to deteriorate.  Writing in 1863, Major Thomas Brooks indicated he turned to sand bags on Morris Island were gabions had failed to retain the beach sand.  Addressing the deterioration, Brooks observed:

At the end of two months the sand-bags used in revetting the siege works herein described began to show signs of decay; but with careful usage, under favorable circumstances, sand-bags might not require replacing in twice the above time.


Brooks went on to say that in time sandbag revetment was often replaced by sod revetments…. when sod was more plentiful for the Federals along the South Carolina coast.

Now in reference to Petersburg, we see another dynamic at work, I think.  Most of the sand bags were used in revetments in battery positions.  Like Brooks earlier, the engineers had issues with sand pouring through the gabions (sand vs. soil at work here).  Furthermore, the Federals at Petersburg had ample hands, as the siege developed, to work filling sandbags to meet needs.  So deterioration was met with replacement.  Likewise, the Western Front of the Great War the density of troops at the front during periods of defensive posture (between offensives and such), left many hands for sandbag detail.  Another aspect addressing deterioration, the fabric used in 1914 was more resilient.  And today we use poly-fibers and other “space age stuff” that ensure sandbags don’t even deteriorate after discarded!

Sandbag revetments offer many advantages, no doubt overlooked by Mahan for brevity.  Already mentioned above, sandbags work better with … as the name implies… sand. Another advantage is that sandbags don’t create splinters when struck by enemy projectiles, which wood, corrugated iron, or even wicker do.  Furthermore, the sandbag offers a relatively uniform construction material over sod and other types that Mahan suggested.  The uniform nature became more appealing in situations with large armies engaged in prolonged siege operations.  Particularly where troops in rear areas might work details to produce large quantities of sandbags for distribution.

OK… sandbags… I prefer them.  Mahan did not.  Enough said.

The last type of revetment discussed by Mahan was the scarp revetment, which used a framework of timbers.  Since it is more elaborate, and its explanation needs more space, we’ll pick that up next week.  But in closing this installment, I would ask readers to consider the similarities and differences between the Mahanian trenches and those of World War I (and later periods).  Moving earth to make an entrenchment remained a task accomplished by the shovel and pick.  But the intent and practice of the entrenchments changed somewhat with time.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 40-1; OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 318.)


Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – 1st Regiment, US Regular

As I was working up the illustrations to start the next round of summary statements, I reviewed the entries for the 4th quarter, 1862 in order to gauge where the presentation had evolved. The 1st US Regulars Regiment, being the the “lead off” post, suffered as my effort had not fully evolved. I will make up for that as we lead off the entries for the 1st quarter of 1863.

Getting started on the quarter’s summary, consider what was happening in at the reporting period – administratively from January 1 to March 31, 1863.  The armies in the Western Theater went through major organizational changes.  The Army of the Cumberland, after Stones River, went from a three-wing formation to one of three corps – the Fourteenth, Twentieth, and Twenty-third.  Likewise, the Army of Tennessee also transformed from wings and divisions into corps.  Complicating the organization’s evolution was the short-lived Army of Mississippi under Major-General John McClernand. Not until late January was Major-General U.S. Grant able to implement his planned (in the previous November) reorganization into four corps – the Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth. All this not to downplay the significant activity within the Army of the Potomac in Virginia during this same period.  One change being the departure of Ninth Corps to the Department of Ohio. All the while the “side” theaters, such as Louisiana or South Carolina, also saw organizational changes.  So while there were few battles during the first three months of 1863, the shakeup of organizations moved batteries around in the order of battle.

The batteries of the 1st US Artillery Regiment served in Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana. as reflected in the first page of their summary:


Looking at these batteries in detail:

  • Battery A – Reporting at Camp Mansfield, Louisiana (outside New Orleans) with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch rifles.  Captain Edmund C. Bainbridge remained in command of this battery.  The reporting location was probably valid for January.  By March the battery was in the field as the Nineteenth Corps prepared to move on Port Hudson.  Battery A appears to have split equipment with Battery F (below) around this time.
  • Battery B – At Hilton Head, South Carolina with four 12-pdr field howitzers.  Lieutenant Guy V. Henry commanded this battery, assigned to the Department of the South’s Tenth Corps.
  • Battery C – At Fort Macon, North Carolina with a dim annotation I interpret as “inf’y service”.  However, the line does not tell the whole story. As winter closed, Battery C was transferred to Hilton Head.  Lieutenant Cornelius Hook was in command.
  • Battery D – Beaufort, South Carolina with four 3-inch rifles.  Lieutenant  Joseph P. Sanger’s name is associated with this battery, but I don’t have confirmation that he was indeed was the commander. Battery D was paired with Battery M on organizational returns.
  • Battery E – At Falmouth, Virginia with four 3-inch rifles.  Captain Alanson Randol was in command of this battery supporting Third Division, Fifth Corps.  Sometimes cited as combined Batteries E and G (see below).  Later, in May, the battery transferred to the Artillery Reserve… but that part of the story for another day.
  • Battery F – No report, but known to be posted in the defenses of New Orleans under Captain Richard C. Duryea, before assigned to Third Division, Nineteenth Corps for the Port Hudson campaign.
  • Battery G – No report.  Dyer’s has Battery G’s personnel serving with Batteries E and K at this time.  However, during the late winter, Lieutenant E.W. Olcott had the guidon, at least on one organizational return.
  • Battery H – At Falmouth, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Serving with Second Division, Third Corps at the time. Lieutenant Justin E. Dimick was the battery commander.
  • Battery I – At Falmouth, Virginia with six 12-pdr Napoleons.  Lieutenant George Woodruff commanded this battery from the Second Corps’ artillery park.
  • Battery K – At Falmouth, Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance rifles.  Assigned to the Artillery Reserve, Captain William Graham was the commander. However, with Graham pulled to head the brigade, Lieutenant  Lorenzo Thomas, Jr. appears as the commander on organizational tables from the later part of the winter.
  • Battery L – Reporting at Port Hudson, Louisiana with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 10-pdr Parrotts. Captain Henry W. Closson’s battery was in Forth Division, Nineteenth Corps.  They were part of a column advanced as a diversion against Port Hudson in March 1863.  So perhaps the location is possibly … maybe … accurate. However, I submit the location is also correct for July of 1863, when the report was received in Washington.
  • Battery M – At Beaufort, South Carolina with four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch Ordnance rifles.  Captain Loomis L. Langdon lead this battery.  It was also one of the batteries assigned to the Tenth Corps, and familiar to those of us following the Charleston campaigns.

One other portion of the 1st Artillery to mention, though they don’t appear on the summaries.  The Headquarters of the regiment appears in dispatches as at Fort Warren, Massachusetts.

Looking back at the previous quarter’s returns, we see a few changes at the battery level. Batteries E and K exchanged their Napoleons for Ordnance Rifles. Down in South Carolina, where cannons were scarce, some cross leveling may have taken place.  Battery B lost two 3-inch Rifles, while Battery D gained a pair. Battery B also gave up two Napoleons as  Battery M added two (they replaced two 24-pdr howitzers).  Stripped of its “good” guns, Battery B worked four 12-pdr field howitzers.  Not changing armament, Batteries A, H, I, and L reported the same types and quantities from the previous quarter.

Looking to the ammunition tables, we start with the smoothbore projectiles:


Rather healthy reports here, but some question marks:

  • Battery A – 520 case shot and 168 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery B – 250 shell, 250 case, and 78 canister for 12-pdr field howitzer.
  • Battery E – 128 shot, 60 shell, 196 case, and 184 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons. Are we to assume the battery had these quantities still on hand after exchanging for rifles?
  • Battery H – 299 shot, 96 shell, 279(?) case, and 96 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery I – 96 shell, 240(?) case, and 296(?) canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery L – 272 shot, 64 shell, 204 case, and 56 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.
  • Battery M – 485 shot, 150 shell, 506 case, and 110 canister for 12-pdr Napoleon.

Moving to the rifled projectiles, we start with the Hotchkiss section:


Four batteries reporting:

  • Battery A – 42 shot, 114 canister, 170 percussion shell, 340(?) fuse shell, and 120 bullet shell for 3-inch rifle…. all for two guns.
  • Battery D – 86 canister, 60 percussion shell, 96 fuse shell, and 150 bullet shell for 3-inch rifle.
  • Battery K – 39 fuse shells in 3-inch rifle.
  • Battery M – 12 canister, 12 percussion shell, 24 fuse shell, and 20 bullet shell for 3-inch rifle.

Moving to the next page, there are entries for Dyer’s and Parrott’s projectiles:


One battery with Dyer’s:

  • Battery K – 133(?) 3-inch shrapnel.

As for Parrotts:

  • Battery L: 320 10-pdr Parrott shell.
  • Battery M: 120 10-pdr Parrott case.  And remember that the battery had 3-inch rifles, not Parrott rifles.

There was but one battery reporting Schenkl projectiles:


And plenty of them:

  • Battery K – 805 shell and 130 canister for 3-inch rifle.

One has to wonder what had been under that battery’s Christmas tree.

Lastly, the small arms reported:


Note the two penciled columns here.  “Sharps’ Carbine Cal .52” and “Springfield Cal. 58.”  Only the later factors into the 1st US returns:

  • Battery A – Ten Army revolvers and 59 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B – 84 Springfield rifles, 100 Army revolvers, seven cavalry sabers, and seventy horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery D – 125 Army revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and 107 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery E – Fourteen Navy revolvers and fourteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery H – Twenty-two Navy revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery I – Twelve Navy revolvers and twenty-six horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery K – Sixteen Army revolvers, thirty-nine cavalry sabers, and eighty-one horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery L – Four Springfield rifles, 62 Army revolvers, eight cavalry sabers, and 107 horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery M – 85 Springfield rifles, 103 Army revolvers, one Navy revolver, nine cavalry sabers, and 104 horse artillery sabers.

Recall the small arms considerations for artillery service.  We see Batteries B, D, and M, all serving in South Carolina, were armed to the teeth.  And of course those batteries were often required to pull duties normally assigned to infantry troops in the larger field armies.  However, it is fair to point out that by late summer of 1863, some of the infantry in South Carolina were pulling duties normally assigned to artillery… as the big guns on Morris Island required crews.

The Guns of Fort Moutrie – New Display

Fort Moultrie maintains one of the best displays of Civil War-period heavy ordnance, and certainly the most storied such display.  Those stories have been a “gold mine” for posts (see, for instance… posts on the 7-inch Triple Band Brooke Rifle, the 8-inch Banded and Rifled Columbiads, and the 10-inch Banded and Rifled Columbiad.)  Several of those guns sit on “cannon row” outside the fort.  A most impressive display, with all those large guns lined up for inspection.

For many years, those guns sat very close to the ground on wood blocks.

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Obviously, wood deteriorates with time, particularly with tons of iron pressing down.  And being close to the ground, weeds were apt to spring up (as seen here).  Furthermore, the open bores suffered in the sea-side air….

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and collected debris from less considerate visitors.

A few years back, the fort opened a project to upgrade the “cannon row” display.  An adopt-a-cannon program by Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Historical Trust gave the guns some much overdue maintenance.  The first time I’d gotten a chance to see the new display was during our recent vacation trip:

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A concrete blocks, shaped to support the specific weapon, now elevate the guns to a respectable viewing level.  A slab of concrete keeps the weeds at bay.  And plugs in the bores fight off corrosion and miscreant leavings.

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The work included a stripping and repainting.  So with a fresh coat of paint, markings stand out sharp:
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A job well done by the Fort Sumter-Fort Moultrie Trust and the National Parks Service.  Their work ensures these guns can keep telling stories for decades to come.

Fortification Friday: Gabion revetments for field fortification

No April Fools today… we have some serious stuff to discuss as Fortification Friday resumes.  Revetments is our subject, and thus far we’ve looked at those of sod, and those using pisa, fascine, and hurdle constructions.  The next type to consider used gabions.  Some time back, I discussed gabions as relating to the Civil War and modern applications, but that need be revisited with Mahan’s take in relation to field fortifications.

Gabion revetment.  The gabion is a round basket of cylindrical form, open at each end, its height is usually two feet nine inches, and diameter two-feet.

Mahan referenced Figure 25 to illustrate the gabion:



The lower section shows the gabion in vertical profile.  The upper portion looks on from above.  You see the basket form with the “two feet, nine inch” stakes.  From above we see concentric circles, or hoops, of a form that is made when constructing the gabion:

To form a gabion, a directing circle is made of two hoops, the difference between their radii being such, that, when placed concentrically, there shall be about one-and-three-quarter inches between them. They are kept in this position by placing small blocks of wood between them, to which they are tied with packthread.  The directing circle is laid on the ground, and seven or nine pickets, about one inch in diameter and three feet long, are driven into the ground between the hoops, at equal distances apart; the directing circle is then slipped up midway from the bottom, and confined in that position.  Twigs half an inch in diameter, and as long as they can be procured, are wattled between the pickets, like ordinary basket work; when finished within about one-and-a-half inches of the top, the gabion is placed with the other end up, the directing circle is taken off, and the gabion is completed within the same distance from the other extremities of the pickets. The wicker work at the two ends is secured by several withes, and the ends of the pickets being brought to a point, the gabion is ready for use.

And that is how you build a gabion.  Implied as a prerequisite is the time needed to gather all those half-inch diameter twigs.

With the gabion prepared for use, where do we put it on the works?  Figure 26 demonstrates a gabion in the profile:


The right end of this diagram is used to discuss obstacles later in Mahan’s text (back in the 19th century, woodcut diagrams were expensive to reproduce, don’t you know).  So we need to focus on the left:


Mahan wrote:

The gabion revetment is seldom used except for the trenches in the attack of permanent works, where it is desirable to place the troops speedily under cover from the enemy’s case shot and musketry.  When used for field works, a fascine is first laid partly imbedded blow the tread of the banquette; the gabion, which is placed on end, rests on this, so as to give it the requisite slope; it is filled with earth, and the parapet is raised behind it, and another fascine is laid on top, and in some cases two.

I’ve added annotations for the fascine anchors required within this arrangement.

We see a gabions often in wartime photos.  Those from Fort Sumter catch my attention most (as one might presume).  By the later half of the war, Fort Sumter was for all practical purposes a permanent seacoast fortification turned into a field fortification.  And we see gabions in use all across the interior.


Notice those gabions that appear to be partially constructed …  deconstructed, or at least empty… in the foreground.  We don’t see fascines on top of the gabions, when seen in profile:


Part of this is explained by the specific application.  In the case of the photo above, there is a planking on which the gabions in the foreground are stacked.  That planking is the top of the entrance to a gallery.  If the top fascine is used, we might assume it to be buried well.  But I see no evidence of such.

Moving past gabions, we still have several sorts of revetments to discuss – next up are plank and sandbag revetments…. oh the excitement builds….

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 39-40.)